What I learned: Part 2 Helsinki

What I learned: Part 2 Helsinki

Why I didn’t like Helsinki

Before I continue, I should tell you the reason for the trip. Before Covid started, I bought a ticket to a Punk in Drublic show with NOFX and some other punk bands. I had gone to see them in Berlin a couple years earlier, and this sounded like a fun reason for a trip. I realize that most people I know probably don’t even know NOFX or any of these bands, but that is okay. Me First and the Gimme Gimmes is also playing which is a punk cover band. Lots of fun.

I saw this poster in Helsinki, and it is weird because I have been in Tartu where the concert is happening, and I have not seen a single poster. No one else seems to know that there is a concert. However, I have contacted the venue and the concert is going on as scheduled and my old ticket will get me in. All is well.

But back to Helsinki…

I got off the ferry in Helsinki and really had no idea where I was going or how to get there. I tried to unlock a scooter, but it wouldn’t accept my payment. I guess they don’t trust Latvian banks?

So I jumped on a tram which was headed the right direction (toward the train station), and all was well. I didn’t see any way to pay, and I was just hoping not to get yelled at by some tram police.

I got to the city center just a few blocks from the central train station, and I started just meandering and exploring.

Very quickly, I started wondering, “Just who does Helsinki think it is?” Here is a city about the same size as Riga, but everything was so big. It is hard to explain, but I ran into a girl selling ice cream here in Turku who knew exactly what I meant and agreed. She also said that Riga was beautiful and that the food was very good.

I just wanted to find a place to have a nice lunch. I was looking for any kind of cozy cafe, but everything was seating for a thousand people and prices that were just phenomenal. 22 euros for a personal pizza??? Who do you think you are?!

I just kept walking past restaurants, all closed. I found a little cafe and had a pastry and coffee (9 euros!), and the lady working said that lots of restaurants were closed on Monday. Makes perfect sense because people don’t eat on Mondays. I bought a little poppy seed roll to go, and just kept walking.

I found a bar, Stone’s Brewery and ordered a beer (9.70) and onion rings (6 euros). The rings came with mayonnaise, so I made my own sandwich. I cut open my poppy seed bun, spread the mayo and added a few onion rings. The Jeff Special. Unfortunately, the bar people didn’t ask me what I was doing, so I couldn’t get the credit for inventing a sandwich in Helsinki. It was actually a very good sandwich, all things considered.

I had a few hours before my train, but I was ready to leave. There wasn’t anything keeping me here. I decided to check out Stockmann because we have one in Riga. I couldn’t find the supermarket section, and the one pair of jeans I looked at were 149 euros. Lovely store, but who are these people and who does Helsinki think it is?

The fun part of the story was when I finally got to the train station.

Platform 11

I was sitting on Platform 11 waiting for the train to Turku, and this older guy with a grey beard and really janky teeth came up to me and looked at me. We had that moment where he thought I was someone, but I wasn’t that someone. He then said I looked like him, big and strong, and then gestured to his crotch as if he knew something about that too. It was uncomfortable for a second, but then we tried to speak in his very broken English and my complete lack of Finnish.

My train came, and I told him goodbye. We left agreeing that there are assholes everywhere.

So I got on the train, and checked my ticket. The seat I was supposed to sit in did not exist. Then I realized that I was looking at the wrong ticket (I had one for Thursday too). So I found my car and seat, and sat. I was just getting comfortable when we stopped, and a woman got on the train saying that I was sitting in her seat. It turned out that I got on the wrong train. My train was at 17:36, but I got on the 16:36.

Then, the train stopped and the conductor kicked us all off the car. They had to compress the train because one of the cars was broken, so I just went and found a seat in another car next to this cool red-bearded guy.

We chatted all the way to his stop. He explained the whole history of Swedes in Finland. I had absolutely no idea that there was this big population of Swedish people who still spoke Swedish. They all learn Finnish and English in school, so it is okay, but in the Swedish towns, the street signs have the Swedish language first.

I thought that this would be a good model for Russian speakers in Latvia. If the Swedish speakers can learn their native tongue at home and then be educated in Finnish and become people of Finland then why can’t the Russians in Latvia do the same? It makes no sense to stay completely separated.

The red-bearded guy told me about conscription when we saw two very young soldiers standing on the train. They looked like children, and I said that they will have to fight if Russia invades. And he said that he would have to put on a uniform too, and he was ready for it. It was a really great conversation.

I made it the whole way to Turku without having to give up my seat or even show anyone my ticket. Sometimes I think the spirits of travel give me gifts now and then. This was one of those times. I owe Karma a bit.

All told, I was just happy to be away from Helsinki. I don’t think I will go there again if I have a choice. I mean, who does it think it is?

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Side note

The rhubarb pastry I had at the little cafe was really nice. It was similar to the ones I have in Riga, but instead of cheese, it was more of a custard filing which I prefer. I was surprised that the coffee was from a dispenser rather than being made fresh. I have been disappointed in coffee both in Tallinn and here in Finland. In Riga, they make it fresh and it is strong and pure. Here it is more like American coffee… which is fine, I guess. If you aren’t paying 3 euros for it.



One Reply to “What I learned: Part 2 Helsinki”

  1. I’ve only been to Helsinki once back in 94′ and have little memory of it other than it was cold, dead of winter January.

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